Scottie Scheffler emerges from wild PGA Championship ordeal looking like a real person

Scottie Scheffler emerges from wild PGA Championship ordeal looking like a real person

Maybe Scottie Scheffler made a mistake, or maybe he was the victim of one at Valhalla. But he showed true vulnerability in the aftermath.


Just after 6 a.m. on Friday, the best golfer on the planet found himself in handcuffs being led into a police car. Shortly after that, he was in a jail cell, doing some pre-round stretching in hopes that he could play the second round of the PGA Championship. And a few hours later, he was in front of reporters after shooting 66, putting him right in contention to win his third major championship. 

Golf is a sport of monotonous routines, requiring a certain serenity of the mind and body for players to perform at the highest level. Or at least so we thought. 

For Scottie Scheffler, that wasn’t an option Friday. Whatever you think actually happened outside Louisville’s Valhalla Golf Club – a genuine misunderstanding during a chaotic traffic situation, an overaggressive police officer abusing his authority, a famous athlete thinking he was above taking instructions from a guy in a neon yellow jacket – there is no world in which getting arrested, fingerprinted and locked behind bars is going to contribute to elite-level golf. 

“I was shaking for like an hour,” he said. “It was definitely a new feeling for me.”

Scheffler, 27, is a two-time Masters champion. For the last several months, he’s been dominating the PGA Tour like nobody since Tiger Woods. And by all accounts, he’s a genuinely good citizen who carries himself with humility and treats people well. 

But Scheffler has never been particularly beloved. He doesn’t have Tiger’s magnetism or Rory McIlroy’s emotional rawness or Brooks Koepka’s defiant nonchalance. He just says please and thank you, keeps an intentionally low profile and hits good golf shots again and again and again.

As strange as it seems, that may have all changed Friday. In an irony too great to have ever imagined, it took getting charged with a crime to understand and appreciate what clean-cut, boring ol’ Scottie Scheffler is all about. 

“I feel like my head’s still spinning,” he said. 

Not many of us will ever know what it feels like to win a Masters or be the best in the world at anything. But we can all sort of understand what kind of fear and shock would be running through our bodies if a morning drive to the golf course abruptly turned into being arrested and charged with a felony assault of a police officer, criminal mischief and reckless driving. 

Now this is where the entire situation can delve into larger social commentary about policing and privilege, which is valid. But out of fairness to everyone involved in this story, I’ll make three points.

  • Without body camera footage, it’s hard to say exactly what happened. It’s possible Scheffler disregarded instructions from a police officer amidst a chaotic traffic situation, which all-too-frequently results in people – especially people of color – being hurt or killed. It’s also possible that a jerky cop on a power trip completely overreacted to a benign situation. We just don’t know. 
  • As Scheffler himself acknowledged, this is an unfortunate but ultimately low-stakes moment in his life. The charges will get resolved one way or another and he’ll be fine. The only tragedy here is what caused the traffic issue in the first place: John Mills, a local retiree who was working security during the tournament, was killed after being struck by a shuttle bus on his way to work for the day. 
  • The fact that Scheffler was able to gather himself, calm down and put together a good round of golf is neither heroic nor particularly amazing, even though ESPN’s commentators tried repeatedly to sell that storyline while broadcasting his round. He’s simply a great athlete, and one of the things that makes people like him great is the ability to compartmentalize emotional turbulence and performance. Once Scheffler made the decision to stay in the tournament, it would have been more surprising if he played poorly.

Having said all that, what Scheffler has lacked during his three-year run to the top of the sport is the kind of folk-hero quality that makes him even remotely relatable to the average fan.

In this cynical world, everything about him almost seemed too good to be true. Did he really marry his high school sweetheart? Would he really have walked off the back nine at Augusta if his wife, Meredith, had gone into labor a few weeks back as he claimed he would have? Does he really live his life according to the principles of his Christian faith, or is it all an act? Is he truly as pleasant and down-to-earth as he comes across on television?

Based on everything he’s said and done in the public eye, it would be hard to dislike Scheffler. But there’s lots of evidence – including the disastrous television ratings on Sunday for his Masters romp – that he just doesn’t get the juices flowing the way Tiger or Rory does. 

If you were brainstorming ideas about what might humanize Scheffler, getting arrested would be too far-fetched to even say out loud. You’d get immediately laughed out of the room. 

Scheffler handled this thing so well, though, that Friday probably could be one of the biggest turning points of his time in the public eye.

No, spending a couple of hours with the cops is not going to impact how many majors he ends up with when his career is done. But there are a few things that we’re all going to remember about Friday.

We’re going to remember that the No. 1 golfer in the world found himself in such a bizarre situation and, according to his own account, didn’t pull the “Do you know who I am?” card to try and wriggle his way out of trouble. We’re going to remember that he repeatedly acknowledged that the death of a man needed to be the main story, not his inconvenience. And we’re going to remember that after a wild ordeal he never could have prepared for, Scheffler came into the media tent and conducted about as transparent a press conference as possible in that moment. 

Though he didn’t discuss details of the incident for obvious legal reasons, he talked about his emotions and his heart rate and the small kindnesses of officers who helped calm him down. He talked about seeing himself on a television from the holding cell and trying to calculate based on the time stamp in the corner whether he might be able to still make his tee time. 

He seemed, for once, like a real person. A vulnerable person. But also a person that you can now understand and contextualize as the best golfer in the world. Whether or not he deserved to be arrested, handling something so stressful and unnerving with such ease kind of explains why he’s such a stone-cold killer on the course. 

Maybe Scheffler made a mistake, or maybe he was the victim of one, but his unflappability and class in the aftermath is no longer a myth. We saw it play out in real time Friday, from handcuffs to signing his scorecard. And along the way, we learned something about Scottie Scheffler that only has a little bit to do with hitting a golf ball: At the end of the day, he’s the real deal. 

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